Sometimes it’s hard to write, right?

Hello my lovely friends, I hope you are well?

It’s been a long time since I wrote, and until quite recently, that applied to my fiction writing too. I might have mentioned that we were planning to move house, and this year we did just that – we moved from our little 1980s house in Kent to a bigger house, with an annexe for my mum and a big garden, in beautiful north Norfolk. They say that house moves are one of the most stressful things you can go through, but I’m usually pretty good at dealing with stress so I thought I would be okay. After all, moving to a wonderful place can only be a good thing, right?

My lovely writing shed was sold to a really nice family and was dismantled and taken away to a new life as a summerhouse in an orchard – that happened back in April.

Despite having no real reason not to write – I wasn’t packing the whole time, after all – I just couldn’t do it. For once I had no deadlines, no writing pressures, so really if we were going to move house at all, it was the perfect time to do it. But the trouble is I think I need a deadline to write, and as I didn’t have one, my time evaporated into other things.

In July we moved house, and in October my mum moved here too. We had a fabulous summer exploring this beautiful area, the house was and is fantastic – my son had two weeks at his new school and then the whole summer to enjoy. We are just a couple of miles away from a sandy beach, and even closer to a tranquil woodland for long walks with Bea. It really did feel like being on holiday, so when I still didn’t manage to write anything, I blamed it on that; I thought when the weather turned, I would get back to work. I have a lovely study set up (indoors this time! Yay central heating!) with a view over the garden. Even the wifi worked eventually… so there was nothing to stop me.

And yet I still couldn’t write.

It began to get quite worrying. What if I’d lost the ability to write completely? What if it never came back? I mean, the mortgage is now pretty scary… I was still doing events, talking about writing, and I felt like a complete fraud. I wanted to preface every introduction with ‘well, yes, technically I AM a writer, but I’m suffering from writer’s block at the moment…’ And I have to say, up to this year, I don’t think I really understood what writer’s block was or felt like. I mean, we’ve all had days where we’d rather do something else than write, but what happens is you eventually sit down and get on with it, and you’re fine. That ‘eventually’ didn’t seem to be happening for me.  The more time that passed, the more worrying it became.

The one hope on the horizon was NaNoWriMo, heading towards me at a rate of knots. As you know, I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo every year since 2005, and the only time I didn’t win was in 2009 when I switched writing Human Remains (at 12k words) to editing Into the Darkest Corner. So NaNoWriMo is like a touchstone for me, my magic charm, and if I couldn’t write then – in my tenth anniversary year! – well I would know I was in serious trouble. But this year’s NaNoWriMo was always going to be different, hundreds of miles away from all my writing buddies and my favourite writing haunts… I had no idea what would happen, and I have never been more scared heading into what’s usually my favourite month of all.

Just before NaNoWriMo kicked off, two things happened that made a whole world of difference.

The first thing was that someone shared this blog post with me on Twitter. In case the link doesn’t work, or you’re too busy to click through to it (do it when you have more time, I guarantee it’s worth it), it’s by Mary Robinette Kowal and it’s called Sometimes Writer’s Block is Really Depression.

Well, my lovelies, I cried when I read it.

I’ve had depression before but one of the few positives is that I’ve always been able to name it, and tackle it when I felt strong enough. Such a large part of my issue this year has been that I didn’t understand what was happening to me and therefore I had no way of fixing it. In this case I don’t think it was a serious bout of depression, but it WAS stress from the move and it was spiralling because the fear of not being able to write anymore was feeding it. By recognising this and naming it, it instantly became less scary and then it was something I could tackle; and that simple fact made me a whole lot better. I hadn’t lost my writing mojo permanently! It was stress! And once I dealt with the stress, my writing mojo would come back.

Well HELLO November, I thought, I’m ready for you now.

On Halloween, or as I prefer to call it now Nano Eve, my favourite night of the year in which stories dance in my head and words fidget on the starting line, I remembered the Neill Technique, which my dear friend (and fellow NaNoWriMo author) Barbara Neill had developed last year. I had tested it out at the time and thought it was great, but I had no real need of it when I was already writing quite happily. Now was the perfect time to put it to the REAL test… and so I found my copy and gave it a whirl. The Neill Technique is designed to get you writing, no matter what it is that’s holding you back. If you need a boost at any time, or if you think that you might have writer’s block or whatever might lie behind it, I highly recommend you give it a try.

I listened to it (it’s an MP3) the next day, and the next day, and maybe a couple more times at the start of the month and then I forgot all about it because by then I was FLYING.

My dear friends, it may sound silly but this is my LIFE, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do and to suddenly NOT be able to do it any more is quite a horrible thing. So to find the words flying out of you more than they EVER have before, despite the worries, was just an incredible relief.

Here is my happy ending to this sorry tale:

2015 nano stats

Last day










It was my best year ever. I wrote 111,415 words in thirty days. I wrote 60,578 words of a new Briarstone novel, and then I switched mid-month and wrote over 50,000 words of a Victorian psycho-drama which might turn out to be a thriller after all (mine always seem to end up that way). So – not one novel but two, in two different genres, neither of them finished yet BUT the good news is that I’m still writing. The further good news is that, thanks to NaNoWriMo, I have found some new writing buddies here and made some really good friends too.

I’m hoping I’ll have something new for you all very soon, but in the mean time, thank you for your patience with me. I hope your own writing, if that’s what you love, is going well – and if it isn’t, give the Neill Technique a try. I can highly recommend it.


NaNoWriMo, and why it’s worth giving it a try

*WARNING: this post may contain anger and be a bit sweary*

Every year without fail I read a blog post, or a newspaper article, or some other opinionated piece of tripe telling the world why NaNoWriMo is a waste of space/time/energy. Usually it doesn’t happen until the end of September, but much as Halloween, the launch of Strictly, and Christmas seem to come around earlier every year, today I saw this on the Writing About Writing Facebook feed.

(In fairness, it’s a blog post from October 2012, so it’s not actually really early. Just repeated.)

If you’ve got a few minutes, please do read it. I am confused about whether Chris Brecheen has actually participated in NaNoWriMo himself, because while this post from 2012 seems to suggest he hasn’t (and let’s face it, why put the link up now if he’s changed his opinion?), later blog posts from ‘Evil Chris’ seem to suggest he did.

I dunno. I don’t even particularly care about one blog’s opinions, but the principle behind it is what has pissed me off.

I am so, so fed up with this. Every chuffing year. What is wrong with people, that they have to see something good, free and positive, and shit all over it? It’s like kicking someone’s sandcastle over, just because it’s there.

This year will be my 10th NaNoWriMo and I don’t think that qualifies me as an expert, but nevertheless I have taken part – as a complete novice writer, having never written anything full length, to a veteran participant, right up to a five-times published, multi-award winning, New York Times bestselling author.

My opinions are thus:

1. There is no such thing as a ‘real’ novelist. You write a book, you’re as much a novelist as I am. I’ve published a book, you can do that too, if you really want to. I’m earning money from writing, you’re earning money from writing, so are lots of other very famous people. It doesn’t make any of us a better writer than anyone else. This is not a competitive sport. Why do we have to fit into some category or other? It doesn’t make the world a better place. It just makes us suspicious and jealous and bitter. There is plenty of room for everybody at this party.

2. You don’t have to write 50,000 words to qualify as a success and writing less than that, or not at all, does not make you a failure. You judge your achievement by your own standards. If you can write 50k in a month, or something that has a beginning and a middle and an end, or 200k+ in a week, then good for you. If you write a sentence and think ‘this isn’t for me, I’d rather be doing something else’, then GREAT! Do it. Be happy. You’re absolutely not a failure, and anyone that says you are is a bit of a twat and therefore not worth listening to.

To put it another way: I can safely say, hand on heart, that I really don’t fancy mountain climbing. I know some people love it. I can even see, as an outsider, what a tremendous thrill it must be to achieve something in that field. I can celebrate and applaud you with genuine joy if that’s what you’ve done, and I can cheer you on if it’s something you’re planning to do. You might urge me to try it – after all, it’s fabulous for you, you love it, you think I might love it too. Now if I decided to have a go myself, and it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t consider myself a failure. I would be surprised if anyone would think I *was* a failure for having tried, and if that’s your opinion, I wouldn’t much care about it anyway.

’80-85% failure rate’? No such thing. Every NaNoWriMo participant is lapping the people on the sofa who think ‘I’ve always wanted to try writing’ but haven’t bothered. I’ve never seen anyone on the NaNoWriMo forums or anywhere else tell anyone who’s participated but not hit 50k that they’ve failed – quite the contrary.

3. Publishers, agents and industry professionals might well be wary of the additional manuscripts that come out of NaNoWriMo, but they’re unwise to ignore them or complain about them or be otherwise dismissive. I can pretty much guarantee that of the drafts produced during any given November, there will be some beautiful, thrilling, potentially best-selling novels. There are some awesome novelists out there being told that, because they wrote the first draft quickly, it will by definition be unredeemable. This is simply not true.

You are not a ‘little Nanoling’ if you’ve participated, written something, enjoyed yourself and now you’re going to write something else. I am so angry just about that one particular phrase. How fucking patronising it is possible to be?

4. Word count during November IS important – it provides your momentum, your deadline, a summit to aim for. Word count. Not, please note, a publishing contract. That has nothing to do with NaNoWriMo. If you fancy having a go at submitting your November novel to a publisher, then any sensible person would expect you to finish it, edit extensively, seek opinions from people whose opinions you respect, and research thoroughly beforehand. Your novel, polished and preened and edited, will most likely NOT be 50,000 words, because it will have changed into something else entirely by then. (I have no idea why Chris Brecheen thinks ‘modern adult novels are usually more like 200,000-500,000 words’. A few are – in the fantasy genre perhaps. But the far bigger majority are around 90-150k. My five published books are all around 120,000 words and they’re not especially small.)

The fact that word count is so important in NaNoWriMo is a good thing, because it takes the pressure off. It means people who would normally tell themselves they’re no good, or shouldn’t bother, can actually get past the self-doubt and write.

I know this because if it hadn’t been for NaNoWriMo, I would never have written anything full-length. I did not believe my writing was good enough for anyone to read, never mind to be worth editing, never mind to be worth publishing. I say this therefore as someone Chris Brecheen might call a ‘little Nanoling’. I wrote ‘50,000 words of excreta’ eight times (I didn’t complete in 2009); but then I edited it, worked at it, revised it and got a publishing deal because by then it wasn’t excreta, it was pretty good.


Having waffled on, I should summarise: I’m not saying you MUST participate in NaNoWriMo, or even that, whatever stage in your writing life you find yourself at, that you SHOULD. I just think that it’s worth a try. Much in the same way that I think you should try anything new, because that’s what makes life interesting.

I’m saying this as an adult human being, not as an author or a writer, or some kind of expert; just that I believe you probably know yourself well enough to judge for yourself if it’s something that you might find fun. I think to say that some people (‘little Nanolings’) go into NaNoWriMo thinking they are just a few short steps away from global literary success is deeply patronising. I believe that if you start NaNoWriMo and find it’s not for you, you can quite easily stop and go and do something that is – and not feel worse off for having tried. I’m certainly not going to think any less of you for stopping, and if you think writing 50,000 words in thirty days sounds like something you’d never want to tackle, then I love you just as much for it.

So my friends: do what makes you happy. Have fun. Challenge yourself. Be brave, and be kind to yourself and to others. If you have the burning desire to write, then give it a try.

I believe in you, I respect you, and I will cheer you on regardless.


It’s not right. It really isn’t.

I’m heartsick, today, folks – and not because Zayn Malik has left One Direction (I’ve been there – sobbed buckets in 1985 when the BBC failed to film the third series of The Tripods. I have the diary to prove it).

No. I’m sad, and baffled, because there are people I know and respect who seem to think that Jeremy Clarkson being dropped by the BBC is a bad thing. Normally I’m pretty good at seeing other people’s point of view, I think it’s important to see both sides in an argument for the sake of balance, to learn from mistakes and to understand others better.

But in this particular case, I’m frankly bewildered. He presents a TV show about cars. Personally I’ve always found that he reminds me of playground bullies (both in terms of the arrogance and, quite possibly, in the underlying poor self esteem that just occasionally you catch a glimpse of) and yet I can see that the show is at times funny, informative and enjoyable.

I may not agree with what you watch, but I will defend to the death (not really) your right to watch it.

He’s made mistakes before, has Jeremy – with various examples of loutish, provocative behaviour, which may or may not have been staged for publicity purposes, and that is one thing…

…but physically and verbally assaulting a colleague to the extent that they have to go to hospital?

I’ve been wondering all day how anyone can think this is acceptable.

Because by signing a ‘bring back Clarkson’ petition, or bemoaning his departure to Sky or ITV or wherever, or being so abusive on social media to the poor guy who ended up with a split lip thanks to Jeremy’s fists that he has to go into hiding, that’s what you’re saying. That it’s okay to hit someone.

And what caused this ‘fracas’, as Clarkson described it?

….Clarkson was upset because there was no catering on set, or something.

Let’s put all this in another context. How many people get free food at work? How many people would actually punch someone if, for once, free food wasn’t available at work? How many people would blithely expect to get away with punching someone at work? How many people would get a million signatures asking for their reinstatement after they’d been suspended for punching someone at work? It’s unreal.

I’ll let that sink in while I change the subject for a moment.

Last weekend I was in Manchester as part of the SICK! Festival, sharing a stage with four intelligent, witty and positive people for the purposes of discussing why books about trauma and suffering are so popular. As one of the fabulous people was Dan Davies, the subject of Jimmy Savile inevitably came up. We discussed at some length how it was possible that so many people knew or suspected that something was not right, and yet he managed to continue to abuse vulnerable people for decades, until his death. Part of the answer to that question lies in the personality of the man himself – the way he was able to hide ‘in plain sight’ – but some of the blame has inevitably been directed at Savile’s employers, including the BBC.

It was Jimmy Savile. He was famous. Who was going to believe he was capable of any wrong? Who was going to risk trying to expose someone so popular?

Now back to Jeremy Clarkson.

I’m not for one minute comparing him to Savile, or suggesting that he is anything other than that he has proven himself to be – a man who assaults someone in the workplace because he can’t get a free meal – but what I would like to draw your attention to is the reaction to his departure.

Why is his behaviour acceptable? Why should he be given a second (third, fourth, fifteenth) chance?

Because he’s famous. Because some of us like watching his TV programme.

And whilst people like him can get away with violence just because they happen to be on the telly, we continue to send out a significant message to all those who are in positions of power and fame. It’s different for you. You can do what you like. You can abuse anyone, if they get in your way, or they don’t do things you want them to do.

So no, don’t bring back Clarkson. Gather evidence, charge him with assault, wipe the smug grin off his face and let everyone know that violence isn’t acceptable, no matter who you are.

End of rant.

(If the BBC would like suggestions about possible programming options to replace Top Gear, may I humbly suggest they consider filming the third series of The Tripods?)